Playing the Dating Game

When all else fails, an old-school matchmaker just might be the answer


Published:

Illustration by Daniel Haskett

Having a dating drought? Maybe it’s time to forget eHarmony or OkCupid and go old school. 

Over the years, Marcia Pilliciotti has done some matchmaking, all but placing rings on a dozen-plus couples. Lately, this newly brown-haired, leopard print-wearing, 60-something has been getting nibbles from millennials and hipsters — a group she never dreamed would want matchmaking advice.

Perhaps her first glimmer of the next generation seeking a mate in a “new” way (96 percent of people now consider online dating standard) was when a young man was introduced to her at a Detroit “Diner en Blanc” at the Heidelberg Project. 

The handsome, 32-year-old “wonderful guy with a great job,” was striking out with online dating and had heard through the grapevine that she “put people together.” 

Pilliciotti hasn’t found anyone yet, like she usually does, but keeps his request in a corner of her mind waiting for the right connection to spark.

When it does, it will likely come from an interconnected network of thousands sprung from her natural interests and friendliness. 

“I introduced my first couple when I was at Eastern Michigan University,” she says. That couple has been married for 45 years and have three children. She then started having events where she mixed 10 men and 10 women whom she hand selected. A number of couples later married, too. 

“I haven’t had a real 9-to-5 job for years,” says Pilliciotti. “I was in marketing and communications, then was a pharmaceutical sales rep. But lately, I’ve been providing care for my parents. 

“However, I’ve always volunteered all over the place,” she says. “It turns out I just happen to be great at meeting people. I’m a tour guide, a master gardener, I sell on eBay, Etsy, and other online sites. I also have been known to do stand-up comedy.”

She’s met fascinating people randomly, although she doesn’t advise this for others. A guy in lederhosen tramping down a major thoroughfare once stopped her, and thinking he might be lost, she befriended him and gave him a temporary home. “I’ve had people from 14 different countries living at my house while I raised my daughter,” Pilliciotti says. “I couldn’t travel the world with my child, so I brought the world to her.”

Her daughter is now grown — and yes, Pilliciotti made a match with a Detroit firefighter that her daughter sometimes denies she did. 

While she still has a Facebook page touting herself as “Marcia the Detroit Matchmaker,” Pilliciotti is deciding whether she will continue matchmaking. But she’s been at it since the late ’60s.

It wasn’t truly a setup orchestrated by Pilliciotti that got Zoran and Chris Minderovic together, just a simple suggestion. “She has had lots of life experiences. It’s really a sensibility, not so much intuition,” says Chris. “She can read people well. It’s not something she tries to do consciously. She just seems to sense who would fit.”

The Minderovics met when they were both inspecting the disaster of a house Pilliciotti was hoping to renovate. They circled around each other with a few wisecracks but that was it. 

Some time later, Chris had tickets to the ballet. Chris was supposed to go but a female friend bailed at the last minute. 

“Why don’t you call Zoran? He plays the cello,” Pilliciotti said. It was an odd suggestion, but Chris had broken up with a live-in and thought, “Sure. He plays the cello. It’s not like I would have pursued the connection … but when she suggested it, it made sense,” Chris says. “I actually think that when you meet someone in a social context, it’s more reassuring. It’s different than someone you meet from out of nowhere.”

That ballet date segued into nearly 40 years of togetherness. Zoran, a translator and writer, and Chris, a medical researcher, have a daughter.

Rose Mason tells a similar story. “In the early ’90s, I was in Marcia’s aerobics class ... and we struck up a passing friendship,” Mason says. “She was promoting a new cafe downtown and invited a group of friends. I encountered my future husband, Ron, at the event, but was talking to two other men as well.”

Mason didn’t think about it until weeks later. “Don’t you want to see Ron again?” Pilliciotti asked. “He’s been asking about you. I think you would really hit it off. Why don’t you let me give him your number?” 

The Masons celebrate their 20th anniversary in May and have two children.

“I don’t know what it was, but we clicked,” Mason says. “I was comforted that he was not a total stranger. She knew him and I knew her and she thought we might like each other.”

This style of matchmaking is a whole other spectrum from online dating. “I really don’t believe that there’s only one person out there for you,” Pilliciotti says. “However, I think a good match involves chemistry and similarities.” 

Both are hard to tell online.“For women, the key is generosity, kindness, and a big heart in a man,” she says. “Men don’t often ask enough questions when they meet someone. (It’s) a physical response. (But) by not asking questions, they don’t know who they’re getting.” 

You can bet Marcia the Matchmaker does.

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